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Choosing a Doctor


You may be faced with the need to find a new doctor due to several different kinds of circumstances. Doctors, like all people, become sick, retire or die. You may move to a new city. Your health insurance coverage may change and your current doctor is no longer covered by your new health plan. Or perhaps you simply decide you no longer have confidence in your doctor or do not find his approach or personality suits your needs or temperament.

Finding a new doctor is one of the most difficult changes we can deal with. Your doctor is important to you, but learning whether a doctor is satisfactory can take considerable time because some of the marks of a good physician are subtle and do not show up readily.

The first issues you have to face in choosing a doctor are very practical ones.
  • What doctors are covered by your health plan? No matter how much you like a particular doctor, if he or she is not covered by your health plan, there is no financial way you can use that doctor. You are only going to be able to choose a doctor from those who are covered.

  • Does a doctor you are interested in have openings for new patients? Many well established doctors have full patient loads and only occasionally take new patients. Your choice of doctors may only be from those who are new to the community or new to the profession. It may be that the only doctors with available openings are foreign born and foreign trained, possibly who speak English haltingly.

  • Is the doctor's office conveniently located so that you can get to appointments without long or expensive trips? If you depend on public transportation you may be limited on where you can go.

  • Once you know which doctors are on the list of possibilities, there are some issues you can check before you see the doctor, while other things can only be known once you have been seen by the doctor one or more times. It will save you a good deal of time, money and emotional energy if you can evaluate the doctor before you have even met him.

  • One of the best ways to evaluate a doctor is to check with friends and relatives and with other health professionals. It may also be helpful if you are leaving one doctor you respect to ask that doctor who he or she would recommend as a replacement. Ask for the names of doctors they are personally familiar with and that they consider to be competent and congenial.

  • Other sources of information about doctors are a bit harder to find, but are most accessible if you can use the internet. Among the things you may be able to learn include:

    1. Is the doctor board certified in his or her specialty?

    2. To what hospitals does a doctor have admitting privileges? The doctor you choose will need to use the hospital your insurance will pay for.

    3. Where did the doctor go to medical school and where did he or she do residency training? This can be a useful guide to possible competency, but graduates of top schools can still have unsatisfactory interpersonal skills.

    4. Is the doctor a member of the faculty at a teaching hospital or medical school? Doctors with teaching responsibilities are more likely to be current in the knowledge of their field.

Only after you have chosen a doctor and been seen will you be able to evaluate some other issues that are important to most patients and may determine the quality of care you will receive. Unfortunately if the doctor turns out to be unsatisfactory at this point, you will have to go through all the effort and energy needed to chose again. Once you have become acquainted with the person you chose, it is then that you will want to ask these kinds of questions:
  • Do you have to wait more than 15 minutes past your appointment time to be seen?

  • Does the doctor seem to be really interested in your problem, thorough and careful in making an evaluation, listen to your complaints and concerns without interrupting you and cutting you off?

  • Does he or she clearly explain his / her findings, test results, conclusions and recommendations?

  • Does he or she carefully explain the choices of treatments and the possible risks and outcomes?

  • Does the physician respond to your phone calls in a reasonable length of time especially when you have a significant concern?

  • Does the doctor inspire confidence? Do you trust him or her?

Finding a doctor can be a difficult process and not many patients are completely satisfied with their choice at least not all the time in all circumstances. We have to be realistic and not expect the physician to be entirely lovable and to work miracles. But we do have the right to expect basic competence, care and concern, and respectful treatment. It can be hard to think about changing a doctor a second time, but if we are still not satisfied with our medical care, we are going to go through considerable stress and anxiety if we feel we are working with the wrong person.

Carole A. Murphy, RN, BSN, CDE
Champaign Urbana Public Health District
201 W. Kenyon Rd.
Champaign, Illinois 61820